Input sought on debated revisions to New Hanover special-use-permit process

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The first of several pages of an overview of proposed revisions to New Hanover County's special-use-permitting process.
The first of several pages of an overview of proposed revisions to New Hanover County’s special-use-permitting process.

New Hanover County is inviting public input on proposed revisions to its process for reviewing and awarding special-use permits.

Comments will be accepted until noon next Friday, Jan. 24—in advance of the planning board’s next regular monthly meeting on Feb. 6, when the board will revisit the revision proposals.

Those changes were debated at the board’s January meeting, which drew a standing-room-only crowd for a public hearing that featured more than a dozen speakers.

Industry advocates maintained the changes would clarify the process and what’s expected of applicants. Environmentalists and others who spoke said the changes would remove an existing requirement for applicants to provide a list of external impacts, such as noise, light, air quality and others.

Related story: Packed house prompts board to continue special-use-permit process decision

Board members voted to continue the hearing, directing staff to revise the debated sections and solicit comments from the public. Public awareness of the changes was cited as a reason to continue the matter another month.

Comments are sought specifically on sections 71-1 (2) of the county zoning ordinance, which deals with the special-use permitting process, submittal of applications and the type of information that may be requested for review by county staff, the planning board and commissioners. The section, including the proposed revisions, is provided in full at the bottom of this article.

Special-use permits are awarded to allow a particular land use—industry and others—that would otherwise not be allowed through traditional zoning. The process was adopted in 2011 to provide more controls over such uses.

Written comments can be submitted by email to Planning Director Chris O’Keefe at cokeefe@nhcgov.com; by mail to: New Hanover County Planning and Inspections Department, 230 Government Center Drive, Suite 110, Wilmington, NC, 28403; or hand-delivered at the same address. All comments received by noon next Friday will be submitted to the planning board in advance of their meeting, the county said.

Section 71-2 (2) reads as follows:

Section 71:  Special Use Permits Issued by the Board of County Commissioners

71-1: General Requirements

(2) In order to assist petitioners through the process for obtaining a Special Use Permit, petitioners are encouraged to request a pre-application conference prior to application submittal. Applicants may include the owner or owners of the subject property, their duly authorized agent, or an applicant that has an option to purchase or lease the property included in the petition for a Special Use Permit that is contingent on approval of the Special Use Permit.

Applicants  shall submit an application to the New Hanover County Planning and Inspections Department at least forty -five (45) days prior to the meeting of the Planning Board at which the applicant seeks to have the application considered (the “Requested Meeting”). (12/07; ___)  The application should be submitted no later than 1:00 PM on the deadline day, and county staff shall endeavor to provide to the applicant either confirmation of completeness of the application, or information regarding non-completeness of the application, prior to the end of that same business day.  Assuming the complete application has been received by 5:00 PM on the deadline day, the Planning Board shall consider the application at the Requested Meeting unless the applicant requests a continuance.

An application fee established by the County Commissioners shall be paid to the County of New Hanover, North Carolina to cover necessary administrative costs and advertising expenses. (8/22/82) Such application shall include all of the requirements pertaining to it in this Article. (5/2/83) All adjoining property owners shall be notified of the request as outlined in Section 110-1(4) of this ordinance. (2/6/89)

County staff may request additional information it believes could be relevant to a determination of impacts to surrounding properties and/or the area in which  the subject property is located.  Such additional information may be in the form of tests, studies, reports, etc. evaluating factors such as sound, vibration, heat discharge, glare, odor, traffic, air quality, water quality, or other factors potentially relevant to the four requirements listed in Section 71-1(4).    Once the petitioner has obtained a permit from a Federal, state and/or local authority, it is presumed for county purposes that the petitioner has the requisite approval for the subject matter covered by the permit.  In order to challenge this approval, the challenging party will need to present clear and convincing evidence to the contrary as determined by the planning board and/or board of commissioners. In the event that this information is requested, then it will be requested within fifteen days of the application deadline.  Irrespective of whether such information is requested by county staff or whether the applicant decides to provide some or all of the requested information, the Planning Board shall consider the application at the requested meeting, unless the petitioner desires a continuance, in which case a request for delay of consideration may be made by the petitioner in accordance with Section 111-3 of the Ordinance.”

Past story: Concerns precede hearing on special-use-permit revisions for New Hanover